Monday, January 07, 2008

Dinner plans and escape

I really enjoyed the preperation for this last week. Setting the scene and the context was really important, probably for two reasons. Firstly, because so few people would have been all that familiar with the first eleven chapters of Exodus, and secondly, because within the context of the grand story of the Bible it could be easy to make Exodus 11 be about how to eat like a Christian, or why you should disobey a difficlt boss. I'm sure no one's ever actually done this, but rooting it in the overall story of the Bible makes it a lot easier not to.

Since we’ve just leapt in blind to the middle of Exodus it’s probably important to set the scene a little bit first. The Israelites are in Egypt, and about a generation has passed since Joseph died. People have all but forgotten the work that God did in that time…people quickly forgot the truth even then. Now God’s people are oppressed and enslaved, they need rescue.

Moses and Aaron had been identified by God as the leaders of these people. We remember the story of the burning bush, where God reveals Himself as I AM or YHWH, and tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the freedom of Israel from Egypt. But Pharaoh doesn’t want to let these people go, so God sends on Egypt 9 plagues to secure the freedom of His people. The problem is that Pharaoh’s magicians can replicate exactly what God is doing, which leaves the Pharaoh unimpressed. This has been described by some as a great face off between the God of Israel, and the false god’s of Egypt. So in Exodus 11 God tells Moses and Aaron that this last plague, the tenth plague will secure the freedom of His people from Egypt. That plague is to be the death of the first born in Egypt, as we see in chapter 11 verse 5 ‘every firstborn in Egypt will die’ so there’s a brief overview of our context.

So lets go back to Egypt together, and see what this story has to teach us today.

Look at verse one with me ‘the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt’. This is significant as this was only the second time the Lord had spoken directly to Moses and his brother for the whole of their time in Egypt, so something important was clearly about to happen, something that already marked this plague out from the others. This idea is reinforced in verse two when God says ‘this month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year’. What is about to happen signifies a new beginning for Israel, something fresh is about to start, something that hadn’t happened before. This was the beginning of the year for the Israelites in Egypt. Already marked apart by not having been affected by the previous plagues that struck Israel they will now be marked out by their different calendar…and much more as we’re about to see. And how is Israel to commemorate this first month in the new calendar?

God gives them some instructions in verses 3-8. Moses and Aaron are to tell the community of Israel that ‘each man is to take a lamb for his family’. If that family is too small for a whole lamb they are to share it with, verse four tells us, their nearest neighbour. You can imagine perhaps the deliberation that went on in the households, as to who would eat what, how big the lamb was and how much would be left over. This command was significant because the lamb was to correspond to people rather than just to households as we’ll see later on, but at the same time each person would still need enough to eat. The lamb would have to be sufficient. And it couldn’t be just any old lamb that the men could find…look at verse 5 with me ‘the animals you choose must be a year old, without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.’ There was some reason in God’s thinking here that there needed to be nothing wrong with the lamb or goat that was chosen, it had to be perfect, without defect…there was to be nothing wrong with the lamb that was chosen. Again we can see that the whittling down process would have taken some time. There was clearly to be a thoughtful deliberate process of selection. We should probably stop here and consider how Moses and Aaron would have been feeling at this point. They had been told, as Exodus 11 records, how God was going to effect the release of His people from Egypt with one more plague, and in the second half of Exodus 11 we see that Moses had been told that God Himself would come to slay all the firstborn in Egypt… You can appreciate then at this point they would perhaps have expected the Lord to give them details on how their own firstborn are to escape such a fate, but instead He seems to be giving them instructions for a rather formal communal dinner party...

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